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Nothing Like Mozart: An Interview with World Minus One

The six members of World Minus One have diverse musical backgrounds, ranging from Suzuki violin at age 3 (bassist Adam Granatella) to directing a capella at Milwaukee's Marquette University (keyboardist Paul Pachniak).  They have diverse interests, too, ranging from a love of Gears of War and Fight Club (drummer Kirk Pogorzelski) to a love of dark chocolate and P.F. Chang's (lyricist, singer, and frontwoman Sara Brauer).   But when they come together, they fuse their many backgrounds and interests into one intense rock sound, and guitarist Jaek Pachniak was determined to bring their music into Rock Band.  He succeeded with "Still Alive", which he personally authored, and which is available for only 80 MSRP through the Rock Band Network.

Carolyn VanEseltine (sometimes better known as HMXLachesis) interviewed Jaek, Sara, and Adam of World Minus One about their music, their track in Rock Band, their experience with the Rock Band Network, and how Adam got bitten by an alligator in his living room.  Enjoy!

Carolyn VanEseltine: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn't heard it yet?

Jaek Pachniak: Female-fronted modern rock with a full and intense sound, and songs that tell stories.

Sara Brauer: When we're live versus in the studio, I think the listener would get a better idea of who we are in that setting. Comparisons are difficult to make because we tend to jump all over the board.

Adam Granatella: Start with a Mozart opera, add in a touch of Marvin Gaye, about 40% Slayer, and an octave above Mariah Carey's range. Can you imagine that? Yeah, that's nothing like what we sound like.

CV: Who are some of your musical influences?

JP: Some of my faves are Radiohead, Mars Volta, and Pink Floyd.   Those don’t come out in every song the band writes by any means, but they're my point of reference when I need some perspective on songwriting or lyrics.  Other influences in the band include Megadeth, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Zep, and Porcupine Tree.  Somehow, and it's still amazing to me, the six of us find a common ground.

SB: Robert Plant, Trent Reznor [Nine Inch Nails], Jared Leto [30 Seconds to Mars], Brandon Boyd [Incubus], Maynard James Keenan.

AG: For me, I take influences ranging from classical to hard rock, with a lot of jazz and funk overtones.

CV: It seems like you all contribute to writing your music.  With six people in the band, that must be an interesting challenge!  Do you have a process for writing a new song?

JP: Just about everyone in the band has the ability to record and share new song ideas, so we rely on the web a lot to introduce new ideas.   If a riff gets posted and clicks with everyone, we’ll run it in rehearsal a few times, post it on the web again to listen back and make tweaks again, and just keep on refining it until we’re happy with it.  Sometimes we can get there in one rehearsal, sometimes it takes a few months to figure out, and sometimes we just shelve it rather than settle.  We don’t rush the process, because once we get to the point where everyone’s happy with it, the time we put in definitely pays off.

CV: Tell us a bit about "Still Alive".  How did this song get written?  What inspired the lyrics?

JP: Sara wrote the lyrics when she was 14.  Dan and I first met Sara through a Craigslist ad she posted, and she turned the lyrics over to me at the end of our first meeting.  Her original lyrics were more like a poem, and there was a lot more content in there…a few of the verses and themes jumped out at me, so next time we got together I had written the music and melody for it and the song was born.

SB: The poem was spiritually dark for me at the time.  It was a battle for what my parents had in mind for me and the things I desired for myself, being so naïve at that age. It was like personal scrutiny and the idea that I had no control.

CV: Why did you choose "Still Alive" for your first song in Rock Band?

JP: The first factor to choosing "Still Alive" was having a good recording of it.  Just as a point of interest, the whole song was done in Dan’s basement... so, a word of advice to other bands: You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to have a "good enough" recording.  If you have some knowledge of recording in your band, or friends willing to help you out, there’s some great affordable software and hardware that allows you do just about whatever you’re thinking of.  That being said, I knew the song would port to Rock Band well, better than some of our other recorded material at the time... it's probably our "heaviest" song, and just has a good groove to it.  The parts lend themselves well to the format…the cascading guitar riffs, cool vocal melodies, driving drum and bass parts... I just thought, "If this were out there, I’d want it."

CV: It looks like you authored "Still Alive" yourselves.  How did that go for you?  Any tips or tricks to share?

JP: Since we recorded everything ourselves, Dan was able to produce the stems for me very easily.   I bought myself a copy of Reaper and an XNA account, and got started as soon as I could.  Having the background of recording and mixing demos made things work pretty natural for me while working in Reaper.  I took full advantage of all the plug-ins, forums, docs, and other resources Harmonix put out there for RBN authors, and I’d encourage anyone interested in doing this for their own band to do the same.  I learned a lot doing this song, and it got easier as I went along…it also gave me an appreciation of all the different parts of this song.  I literally looked at every bass, drum, guitar, and vocal note one-by-one, so it was cool to do that kind of study on the song.  There were bass licks in there that I never really heard before, but that jump out to me every time we play them now.

CV: How often do you rehearse, and what are your rehearsals normally like?

JP: We normally just rehearse once a week, for 2-3 hours.   Because we use the net to do a lot of writing and background work for the band, it helps make the most of the time we’ve get together.  It’s hard to juggle 6 schedules, so the time we have together is important.  We usually try to spend most of the time running new stuff, and we always record and post our rehearsals online so we can listen back to them throughout the week.  It’s cool to hear the evolution of a new track even in just one practice, if we play it 6-7 times through and try different things.  There are some gems of audio bites in some of those rehearsal recordings, as much in the between-song banter as the actual music.

SB: Rehearsals are like telling a handful of excited, attention-deficit children to focus. We really should practice more than we do. It seems like by the time we all debrief from our week, we don't have quite enough time to create. It's difficult to get six busy individuals together in a two hour  time span and be really productive, but we make it work.

CV: You play frequently around Wisconsin.  What are your live shows like?  Do you have a favorite venue?

JP: We try to stuff as much energy as we can into our live shows.  Sara, especially, just shines on stage.  She’s a frontwoman in every sense of the word, so that’s kind of her habitat, and we feed of that too.  As far as venues, most people don’t know that Milwaukee is home to the largest music festival in the world, Summerfest.  11 days, thousands of bands, right on the shore of Lake Michigan.   There’s been a lot of clubs that have been good to us in the state, and Milwaukee especially, but I love the festival atmosphere and Summerfest is the biggest stage in the region we get a chance to play on.

SB: The BBC (in Milwaukee) has provided us with "home-base," so to speak, and it's just a casual, comfortable place to play. I'm looking forward to playing several new venues this spring and summer.

CV: Do you have more fun in the studio or on the stage?

JP:  Being one of the primary songwriters in the band, that’s a tough question.  The first time someone hears you is almost always as a recorded track, so I put a premium on how things go in the studio.  I love the creation and production aspect of it, and the collaborative effort that goes into it.  That being said, anyone who’s been to one of our shows knows that I have a blast on stage and am all over the place.  Everyone in the band does this for musical outlet and expression first and foremost, and the stage is the best place for that.
 
SB: Onstage, most definitely. The crowd gets the opportunity to party with us and interpret the stories we tell through our words and sound.

AG: Playing live is where it's at.

CV: I have to ask about Adam's bio on your site.  He writes: "I've been bitten by an alligator, a shark and a moray eel, pinched by a lobster, stung by a stingray and stung by a lionfish, all from the comforts of my own living room!"  Are you just teasing your audience, or does Adam have an awesome aquarium?

AG: Many aquariums over the years, both freshwater and saltwater.  The alligator was a bit of a mistake, and I only had it for a month or so.  I've had a few banded cat sharks, all of which I hatched from eggs, which is a pretty cool experience.  The stingrays were probably my favorite. They would come up to the top of the water and eat right out of my hand.  I've had aquariums of some sort pretty much all of my life, right now I have a 125 gallon with African Cichlids.  It's a fun hobby and a nice addition to the living room for sure.

CV: I understand Jaek and Dan have been playing together for over seven years now.  How did the two of you originally meet?

JP:  Dan and I met in 2001 through a mutual friend at college.  Dan was in a band with that guy at the time, and after that band broke up we decided to start our own group, since we worked pretty well together. We had some good success with that first band, including winning MTV-U’s "Best Music on Campus" contest in 2005, which earned us the opportunity of a development deal on Universal Records, recording a single with a great producer in Chicago, and shooting a music video for the single in downtown Manhattan.  We learned a lot from that experience as far as the type of work ethic and drive you need to have to make a dent on the business side of the music industry, as well as some perspective about why as musicians we do what we do.  We definitely have taken what we learned through the years and applied it to World Minus One.

CV: What advice do you have for musicians looking to start a band?

AG: Make sure you come up with a goal for what you want to achieve.  I think that's what makes WMO work so well.  We don't have one person wanting to be the next superstar, another wanting to be a cover band, and yet another who wants to just pocket a few bucks here and there and doesn't want to work at it.  We all have our different lives and musical influences, but we all know what we're looking for in a band and all know our roles.  The other thing I have to add to musicians playing original music is be honest with yourselves.  Record practices, video tape yourselves, and watch and listen with an open mind.  If it doesn't sound good to you, don't start with excuses, start figuring out why.  Chances are the bottom line is the song just isn't that good.  It's a harsh reality, but it is just that, reality.

JP:  Everything I learned about being in a band I picked up from Spinal Tap, so I’d say that’s a much-watch before jumping into the deep end.   Really though, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, because the only sure payback you can bank on is the satisfaction that you’re doing what you love.
 
SB: If a band is something you're just looking to fill your time with, then great. But I've learned from Jaek and Dan, through their previous success, that if it's something you plan on making a life out of, then make your own luck and allow music to become a lifestyle.
 
CV: You’ve been doing some interesting things to promote your Rock Band Network track.  Tell us a bit about them?

JP: The great thing about Rock Band is being interactive with the songs, and in the same way we like to be interactive with our fans.   I got to thinking, "If I had just bought a song off RBN off a recommendation or because I liked the demo, what would make that track even more personal to me?".   I came up with the guitar challenge... basically to give the Rock Band community a chance to say they beat the actual guitarist of the song at his own game.  I knew some people would have no problem with it, but it's been a little disheartening to see the first-time FCs.  I’m like, "C’mon, I put all this time and energy to author this track and you just steamrolled it!".   Those players have a tendency to vie for top score though, so best of luck to them.  I’ve given out quite a few tracks already, and I know there’s some determined people not too far behind me.
 
Since the original guitar challenge, I’ve also put up videos of Kirk, our drummer, and the whole band.  They make for interesting views, I think, but we definitely didn’t set the bar too high on those.  I’ll take the small victory of getting through the song with the whole band on Expert.  They were fun to make, and we’ve gotten great feedback on them.
 
CV: Are you planning on bringing more music to the Rock Band Network?  If so, what's next on the list?

JP:   We just finished two tracks with Milwaukee producer David Vartanian (Live, Violent Femmes), and we’ll be bringing at least one of those new tunes, "Fool For Your Love", to RBN next.   We just put a wrap on the tracks last week, so I’ll be starting the authoring process right away.   And if we end up issuing a challenge on that one, we’ll make sure we’re a little more practiced first.

CV: Anything else you'd like to share with the Rock Band community?

JP:  The response we’ve gotten from being a part of RBN has been really rewarding.  I just want to thank everyone who’s picked up "Still Alive", or any RBN track for that matter, and everyone who’s written us or tried their hand at the guitar challenge.  The RBN really gives the Rock Band community the power to get behind new and unsigned artists, and though it's new, it's only a matter a time before the community will get some serious credit for helping break artists. 

For more about World Minus One, including their blog and tour schedule, check out their website at worldminusone.com.